It took us a while, but we figured it out:

The Earth is round, and we shouldn’t worry about falling off the edge1. The web, however, has been flat since the start. Sure, most of us remember the debacle that was Second Life, the game-like world with pornographic avatars and that has been referred to “the Vietnam of digital marketing”. And in gaming, we’ve been enjoying 3D experiences (“Damn, that’s the second time those alien bastards shot up my ride!“) for decades.

And so finally, after a fair share of false starts, the digital world is about to shift — again. So, buckle up Dorothy; it’s time to kiss Kansas bye-bye.

The Hologram Idea

Let’s begin in Tony Stark’s garage: In Marvel’s blockbuster movie Iron Man, lead character Tony Stark, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., often interacts with his AI computer Jarvis. When working on his power suit in his garage, Stark often interacts with a holographic computer interface, a popular feature recurring in all Iron Man movies.

Tony Stark working on his computer. Will this become reality?

We have seen different types of holographic projections already, like this one of the late Michael Jackson:

Still the king of pop.

The late Tupac Shakur:

And the Japanese anime character, Hatsune Miku:

Only in Japan. Or are the rest of us ready for this?

The challenge with holographic projection is, of course, that the technology requires projectors from multiple locations and good lighting conditions. Could anyone create a consumer-viable product, using multiple projectors locations, without making it too complex and expensive to set up and use?

Well, as it turns out, that was the wrong question to ask. There is a way to interact with holograms without having to use projectors:

Augmentation technology.

The Augmented World

Augmentation isn’t a new idea. Many downloaded and played around with the app Layar2, through which you could see a layer of digital content on top of the physical world. Augmentation was also something Google took a stab at with their Google Glass project, but only by using a small viewfinder in the upper corner of the user’s visual field.

The hyped Silicon Valley startup Meta Vision seems to have found a solution:

By creating see-through goggles, the interactive 3D user interface (the “augmented reality”), only had to exist in front of the user’s eyes. You can still interact with other users within the same holographic universe, just as long as your goggles are running the same program in sync. The “see-through” part is critical to this development since VR (virtual reality) goggles, which by nature are not see-through, are already commercialised and used mainly for gaming purposes.

Will we be able to fit this technology onto regular glasses or lenses?

And full-view augmentation isn’t Meta’s only secret weapon: Using 3D visual recognition software, the AR goggles can recognise your hands without any extra devices or sensors. It allows the user to interact with the augmented layer, much the same way Tony Stark, in his garage, can interact with his holographic interface.

Augmentation Use Cases

Second Life, holographic projection, Layar, and Google Glass, hasn’t been commercially useful. Will full-view augmentation be useful enough? Applying Moore’s Law3, we can expect AR goggles to shrink down to the size of a pair of Ray-Ban’s in the foreseeable future.

The list of potential and practical uses of a pair of AR goggles are seemingly endless. A few examples:

  • Assisting professionals. Surgeons could have X-ray vision if the patient’s body has been scanned before the operation. Real estate agents could show listings to prospects without visiting it physically. Soldiers could be able to see around corners. Why not walk around in your living room and experiencing how various interior designers would choose to decorate it?
  • Immersive classroom experiences. Teachers could, together with their students, interact across vast distances and work on practical projects together. Even the whole idea of collaborative meetings could be disrupted, changing how we interact socially and professionally across the web.
  • AI instructors. Imagine having a virtual PT with you in the gym, always analysing your form, monitoring your vitals, and giving you feedback. These types of companionships could be commercialised across great many service areas. Why don’t let a local celebrity avatar guide you to your destination instead of using a map?
  • 360 storytelling. Looking at the Game of Thrones 360 intro trailer, it gives us a hint of how to experience entertainment in the near future. And Facebook has already deployed 360 videos on their platform. Will we even distinguish between movies and games in the future?
  • No more screens. Imagine not needing a screen on your desktop, only a keyboard, a mouse, and a pair of AR goggles. Then imagine not needing a television in your home. Screen size and location becomes arbitrary and more a question of mood and personal preference.
  • Immersive marketing. When buying clothes online, just put on your AR goggles, stand in front of a mirror, and then swirl to get an accurate 3D rendering of your body shape. Now you can see how various sizes will fit you before you buy.

It’s safe to say that we can only begin to imagine the various types of use cases we’ll see emerge from AR technology as a commercially available platform. And marketing will need to change, again.

AR + VR + 360 = Mixed Reality

Even if technological advancements are moving forward at a faster and faster pace, it still takes trial and error for entrepreneurs, engineers and software developers to develop market-viable products. And then it still takes time for consumers to adapt. At this point, there will be time for us to experiment as these technologies become more readily available.

As marketers, we’re still struggling with how to conquer the flat web. We often think of the online space as a large print magazine.

We still talk about pages, even.

What we can do now, is to start figuring out mixed reality, meaning this: How can we start to create online experiences for all senses?

Photo by Brandon Mowinkel on Unsplash.

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  1. Unless you’re subscribing to the Flat Earth idea. If so, good luck with that.
  2. It seems like the app Layar is still around. Is anyone still using it?
  3. “Moore’s law” is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years.

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